Mars Attacks is a cross section of pop-culture America: an enlightening and sarcastic vision of the current state of society. Of course, the situations in the movie are highly exaggerated, but at the end of the movie I couldn't help but wonder about the various similarities of the characters to real-world people.
The movie is set in various locations, including Washington, DC (among the politically-minded people), Las Vegas (the money-minded people), and Kansas (the gun-loving people). Most apt is the setting of the first alien landing at Pahrump, a town just a few miles east of Death Valley. Throughout the movie, there are a lot of satirical jokes infused with a good black humour about American pop-culture that sometimes work and sometimes don't. But credit must be given to Tim Burton for willing to take the artistic risks he chooses to take.
There are some serious problems with the execution of this movie that distract from the satire and the special effects. The primary problems include the editing of the film and the wooden-faced actors who simply appear to be going through their motions. Even though Mars Attacks consist of star-studded cast, including people like Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Pierce Brosnan, Sarah Jessica Parker, Martin Short, Michael J. Fox, and Danny DeVito, there is little chemistry between them, and the time spent on each character is minimal. In fact, the martian characters stole the show more than any of their human counterparts.
Among the better human characters are Nicholson as President Dale and as Art Land (a Las Vegas entrepreneur) who had some interesting and funny moments when he was in a good form, and some horrible moments when he was not, and Brosnan and Parker as Donald Kessler (a scientist expert on extraterrestrial affairs) and Nathalie Lake (a TV reporter covering the incident) manage to generate a bit of humourous interaction.
But what I think makes Mars Attacks work, providing continuity even when the scenes themselves seem out of place, is Danny Elfman's score which is simply amazing. As I was watching, I felt the score tell me a story that was more obvious than the one depicting the movie. The score and the special effects, particularly in the opening scenes, blend extremely well.
This is the B-movie for the 90s, and I highly recommend checking it out on the big screen.